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New recyclability guidelines to boost packaging rates

Around 85% of paper-based packaging is recycled in Europe ever year, according to the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) which has joined forces with other industry associations to set out changes to achieve even higher recycling rates.

The future of packaging recycling hinges on making producers and product designers understand that functionality must go hand-in-hand with recyclability, according to CEPI, CITPA, ACE, and FEFCO. Together, they have come up with wide-ranging recommendations regarding design, material composition, adhesives, inks, chemicals, consumer information and applications.

Proposals include: 

  • Use only essential non-paper constituents to fulfil the expected functions of the packaging
  • If non-paper constituents are needed, separation of the different elements should be as easy as possible
  • Plastic lamination layers should not readily degenerate or break into very small pieces in the pulping stage
  • Optimise the adhesion between the laminate side and the board to facilitate separation.
  • If functionality allows, use material that is laminated only on one side
  • Ensure the paper fraction of the packaging breaks down into single fibres when pulped within a specified time frame
  • Give preference to polymers and other sealing agents that can be removed from the fibre in the conventional screening process
  • Give preference to polymers, sealing agents and application processes that can be dealt with efficiently by the paper mill process and effluent water systems and do not compromise the finished product, the production process or the environment whilst being recycled.
  • Metallic and other inorganic coatings applied via vacuum deposition shall not hinder the re-pulping process and shall be capable of being screened out.

‘Retailers and brand-owners exploring new fibre-based solutions want to see their packaging back in the loop after use. With these guidelines, the paper and board value chain answers what this means and requires in practice,’ says Ulrich Leberle, raw materials director at CEPI. He hopes the report will prove to be ‘a source of inspiration’ for innovation and the introduction of new technologies. 

Leberle says the recommendations are generally applicable across Europe although it would be best to collaborate with national extended producer responsibility schemes and national trade organisations for targeted markets. Doing so would also help comply with specific national protocols for assessing the recyclability of packaging, he adds.

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